Much has been written about the life of Jacob. To go from a deceiver and a thief to later be known as a “prince of God” – is truly a remarkable story. Like Abraham, much of what we can say about Jacob and his life is left unsaid by the Biblical narrative. This only becomes obvious when we lay out his life in a chronology. In an attempt to illuminate this pillar of our faith a little further, here is Jacob’s life laid out on a timeline:
How Old Was Jacob?
If this timeline is accurate, and most conservative scholarship says it is, then Jacob was 83 when he married Rachel and Leah. 83 years old! That is an impressive feat in and of itself, but to father the foundation of a nation – amazing.
But why did he wait so long? We know that Esau, who was the same age as Jacob (twins) got married at the age of forty. This would have been a reasonable age. Forty meant he was established able to sustain a wife and household. I doubt that Jacob did not also worked hard to prepare himself to receive a wife.
What could this mean?
The text is all about contrasts. We see Esau as impetuous and Jacob as calculating. Esau the skillful hunter, Jacob the content domestic. Esau the alpha, Jacob the beta. But in this gap in his life we sense one other potential contrast.
Esau, not content to wait for a proper wive, goes and finds wives among the local inhabitants (Genesis 26:34-35). Jacob abstains. And it is this contrast from Esau that uncovers the crucial point. Perhaps he was waiting for a suitable match to avail herself from among his clansman. Perhaps the daughters of Laban, Rebekah’s brother, were not even born when Jacob was 40. It is quite possible. If this is the case, Jacob, out of respect for his mother, would have waited for a daughter of marriageable age to be produced from his mother’s clan.
If this is the reason, Jacob was able to suppress his basic desires for a marital and sexual companionship in order to honor his mother and father in his choice of a wife. And while we might not understand such rigid marriage mores today, it is important to note his desire to honor and respect his parents in this most important of decisions. Perhaps it was this kernel of gold among others that God used to make Jacob the “deceiver” into Israel, the “Prince of God.”
And while we can only speculate because the Bible does not pointedly say why he married so late, we get a glimpse in Isaac’s charge to Jacob when he sends him to his clansmen:
“So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: ‘Do not marry a Canaanite woman. Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.’”
and again from his mother:
“Then Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.’”
And while it is not proof positive, it is clear the wishes of his parents. They wanted daughters-in-law from their own clan. Let me know your thoughts on the subject. It is great digging into the Bible and uncovering unsuspected truths, even from chronologies…